A couple of years ago, when esthetician Renée Rouleau determined I was a #6 combination skin type using her nine-part diagnostic skin type test, I felt like I suddenly understood an important part of my identity. I was in the combo-skin club, and along with my fellow members, I could lament the trials of having both dehydrated skin and a shiny T-zone, while dry skin and oily skin types could bond with their respective club members and exchange advice about what products work best for them. It's great to have allies in the quest for problem-free skin. However, among the main skin types, there has always been one mysterious category whose club members remain so elusive to me that I wasn't even sure they existed: I'm talking about "normal" skin.
You see this phrase, "normal skin type," all over the world of skincare: on product packaging and instructions, in articles offering skincare advice. And yet, as common as it is to read about "normal" skin, I don't know a single person who identifies this way. Plus, since "normal" is a subjective word, not a descriptive one like dry or oily, you have to wonder: What is "normal" skin anyway? Is breaking out or getting dry patches not "normal?" If it isn't, does anyone really have "normal" skin? And either way, does this skin type perhaps deserve to be renamed?
What Is "Normal" Skin?
According to board-certified dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, creator of Specific Beauty, when brands market their products to "normal" skin types, they're generally directing them at folks who meet a few specific (ideal) criteria: few to no blemishes, no sensitivity, minimally visible pores, and balanced hydration levels. Folks with this skin type don't tend to feel dry or greasy, they almost never break out, and their skincare maintenance is pretty bare-bones.
Dr. Rhea Souhleris Grous, put it simply: "Normal skin is in balance in terms of oil and water," she explains. "As a result, it does not feel too dry or too oily and is generally low maintenance." Still, it's important to note that breakouts and dry patches are possible in all skin types, and are not an abnormal experience, Grous points out.
If you're drooling at the thought of having such a skin type, just know it's not exactly common. "In my 40 years of dermatology practice, I find the majority of people have some combination skin up until about 30, and the majority of people over 40 feel their skin is dry," comments board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, founder of the newly launched Dr. Loretta skincare line. "Be warned most of us don't have 'normal' skin."
"Normal" Skin and Skincare
"Normal" skin isn't just rare, however—some experts say it doesn't technically exist at all. "In my dermatology practice, I don't tell anyone they have 'normal skin,' since this is not a clinical term, but instead it's used as a guideline in the description of skincare products," Ciraldo explains. "For a skincare product, it refers to people with no major problems; so, if your skin is sensitive, rosacea-prone, oily, acneic, dry, or post-procedure, you may need to stay away from some products that say for 'normal' skin since there is a chance that the product could aggravate your skin condition." By Ciraldo's measure, if you see the word "normal" on a skincare label, you (sometimes, not always) might consider it "a bit of a warning."
Grous says that products formulated for skin with no specific issues may end up being more robust than anticipated. "People with skin conditions should be advised properly by a skincare provider and be selective with what is appropriate to use on their skin," she explains. "For example, some 'normal' skin types can benefit by using a vitamin C serum. However, the same Vitamin C serum might cause breakouts on oily acneic skin or oily rosacea skin."
The other major problem with the term "normal" is that it isn't specific enough to help anyone pragmatically figure out what products and habits would work best for their skin health. With her patients, Woolery-Lloyd often uses the Baumann Skin Typing System, a series of questions to determine one's skin type and condition out 16 different options. The categories in this system include oily versus dry, sensitive versus resistant, pigmented versus non-pigmented, and wrinkled versus tight. Because this diagnostic is more specific, it's also more accurate, rendering a label as vague as "normal" nonexistent. "Using this system, for example, my 'normal' skin is actually DRPT (dry/resistant/pigmented/tight)," says Woolery-Lloyd.
The Final Takeaway
The bottom line is this: If you're serious about improving your skin health and getting a real diagnosis, getting a diagnosis from a qualified skin professional to identify your unique needs is your best option. "All skin types have work to do, to maintain beautiful healthy skin," Grous says. "When advising a patient or client, a professional does not look to correct a genetic skin type but rather correct or manage a skin condition," she explains.
It simply isn't a focused or detailed enough description and, thus, unhelpful. Not to mention, the word itself rubs many skin experts the wrong way. "I do think it is a little odd to say 'normal' skin since the opposite of normal is abnormal, which is kind of negative," Renée Rouleau says. Still, Grous says that genetic skin types shouldn't be judged, therefore we should honor the distinction between skin types we can't change, skin conditions we aim to manage, and skin standards set by society.